Using energy more efficiently is an effort to reduce the amount of energy necessary to provide a product or service. This is usually achieved using specific technologies or production processes, but can also be achieved via behavioural changes.
A significant portion of the EU's existing energy use - at least 20% - is wasted due to inefficiency. This unnecessarily adds tens of billions of Euros to the fuel bills of European citizens and results in hundreds of tonnes of avoidable carbon emissions every year. The EU currently imports 50% of its energy and it is estimated that this will rise to 70% in the next decade if no action is taken to redress the issue, increasing vulnerability to rising energy prices and stock shortages.
However, technologies and services exist and are on the market today to enable extensive energy conservation in key sectors of European society. In the case of buildings, these technologies are predominantly cost-effective in that the initial investment is eventually recouped via the savings in energy costs. In addition, there is significant job creation potential in implementing these technologies and services.
The EU and Energy Efficiency
The EU has adopted three targets as an integrated approach towards dealing with climate and energy challenges that would simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, enhance security of energy supply and strengthen the EU's competitiveness. The so-called "20-20-20" targets of the EU Climate and Energy Package are:
- a 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions based on 1990 levels by 2020
- 20% of EU energy to come from renewable sources by 2020
- a 20% reduction in primary energy use based on projected levels by 2020
While the first two targets are mandatory, the energy savings target is indicative only.
Energy savings policy at EU level is concentrated on energy-intensive sectors such as manufacturing, transport, construction and energy conversion. In 2006, the Energy Efficiency Action Plan (EU EEAP) was presented, outlining how the EU planned to tackle excess energy use in these sectors up to 2012.
The EU is in the process of reviewing the measures and actions contained under the 2006 EEAP. It has become clear that, if activity in this arena is not significantly accelerated, Europe will only reach 50% of the energy savings target by 2020.
According to the preliminary results of the study ‘Energy Savings 2020’ by Ecofys and Fraunhofer ISI, published in September 2010, a full tripling of EU policy measures is necessary to achieve the 20% energy savings target in order to reduce energy bills annually by €78 billion, create 1 million jobs and save 560Mt of CO2.
Creating binding measures and targets for energy efficiency at EU level is essential to achieving the 2020 goals.
The Contribution of Buildings
Improving the energy efficiency of buildings, which account for 40% of Europe’s energy consumption, offers bigger potential energy savings than any other sector. Using existing and well-proven technologies and services, 70-90% of a building’s energy generated for heating and cooling can be reduced permanently. These savings are, to a large extent, deliverable economically. The 2006 EEAP highlighted the fact that improving the energy efficiency of buildings provides an overall negative cost method of achieving Europe’s goals on energy security, carbon abatement and economic recovery. Investing in energy efficiency is a win-win solution, unlike investments in generating capacity, infrastructure or carbon capture and storage, which are a net cost drain.
Improving the energy efficiency of buildings:
- Increases energy security, by reducing our demand for imported energy.
- Assists in economic regeneration, by requiring less expenditure on fuel.
- Achieves climate change objectives, through lower carbon emissions.
- Creates employment, by increasing local and SME jobs to install measures.
- Reduces fuel poverty, by reducing the cost for the poor to heat their homes.
- Improves the quality of the environment, because buildings become more habitable, comfortable, attractive and easier to maintain
EuroACE believes that, given these well known factors, the building sector should be the main priority area of the EU’s energy policy and energy efficiency strategy.
 EU Energy Efficiency Action Plan 2006